The Silent Majority

Commissioned and © 2013 by— Wildlife Preserves, Inc., Researched, Written and Images by Blaine Rothauser—BR Environmental, LLC.

A Field Guide to Moths of Troy Meadows

A Guide to the Moths of Troy Meadows (East Hanover and Parsippany-Troy Hills, New Jersey)

Commissioned by Wildlife Preserves, Inc.

Authorized by — Robert Perkins, Jr. of Tenafly, New Jersey

Blaine Rothauser of BR Environmental Services, Florham Park, NJ — Research, author, and photographer

Roy Levine of Valdosta, Georgia — Designer of PowerPoint pages

Leonardo Fariello, AKA Len Sunchild of Whippany, NJ — Editor and page design

Phil Reynolds of Byg Byte, Rockaway, NJ — Web Master, converted PowerPoint slides to HTML for the World Wide Web

The common name of the moth is listed on the top of each page, followed by its scientific name, its Hodges Number, its flight period, its size, host plant(s), field notes, and photograph(s). Special emphasis is placed on the ecological significance of the species especially as it relates to Troy Meadows.

(The Hodges numbering system was published in 1983—giving a number for every species known from the U. S. and Canada–at that time–that could be used by all and sundry when cataloging moths. For more on Hodge numbered species, see—–––

We hope you learn from this guide and enjoy it!

Len Sunchild— Special Project Coordinator for Wildlife Preserves, Inc.

What are Moths?

Moths are in the class of “Insecta”— Insects are invertebrates with three parts to its body and six legs.

Moths and butterflies are in the order Lepidoptera, translated to mean “scaly wings” because their wings are made of microscopic scales.

The suborder Heterocera include moths while the suborder Rhopalocera include all butterflies.

Moths evolved long before butterflies, fossils having been found that may be 190 million years old. Both types of Lepidoptera are thought to have evolved with flowering plants, mainly because most modern species feed on flowering plants, as adults and larvae. One of the earliest species thought to be a moth-ancestor is archaeolepis mane, whose fossil fragments show scaled wings similar to caddisflies.

There are several difference between moths and butterflies. Generally butterflies fly during the day and moths fly after dusk. They are most active when the temperature is 80°F but some species can emerge in winter when temperatures reach the 40’s. Moths are generally thick and furry (raised scales) while butterflies are more slender and smooth. Butterfly antennas are slender and thread like with swollen or club ends, moth antennas are usually feathery. Butterflies rest with their wings folded, moths rest with their wings out and open. These descriptions sometimes overlap, as some species of moths and butterflies can have a one or more characteristics specific with what is thought of as common traits for each group.

There are four stages to the life of a moth— first there is the “egg.” It hatches into a “larvae”— called a caterpillar. The caterpillar is an “eating machine,” it molts out of its skin many times as it grows. Each growth stage is called an instar.  Most eventually build “cocoons” where they go through metamorphism. The final stage is called the adult when  emergence from the cocoon  is complete  – the majority of images included in this online guide represent the species in its final form before the life history process begins anew. 

Why Moths?

Why moths? Why not moths. This online guide is based upon a biologic survey performed by BR Environmental in 2012 and 2013. The moth group was chosen because the taxa that they belong to, Lepidoptera, provides a relatively accurate snapshot of the ecological health of Troy Meadows. Very few taxa can function so efficiently at gauging the environmental quality of the landscape like nocturnal Lepitoptera. In order to emphasize this crucial point we offer the following explanations as to why analyzing moth diversity can provide a barometer reading of current fitness inherent with the resource:

  1. Adult moths and their caterpillars are food for a wide variety of wildlife, including other insects, spiders, frogs, toads, lizards, shrews, skunks, bats and birds, therefore they are of high value in food webs.
  2. Moth species have an incredible diversity of life history requirements. It’s not a case of one size fits all. Having a complete insect life-cycle is about the only common theme one can derive from the group. With 160,000 species world-wide, 2,200 +/- found in New Jersey, the life style and phenology (timing of life history events) of each species vary like the geometry of snowflakes.
  3. From the latter it should be obvious that if an area supports a large number of different species representing a good cross section of Lepidopteron families than chances are many interspecific biological associations have formed. In other words food webs, nutrient cycling, and other ecological services are solidified.
  4. Moth caterpillars have a great impact on plants by eating their leaves. This had led to many types of plants evolving special chemicals to make them less appealing to caterpillars to limit their damage. Moths in the adult stage also benefit plants by pollinating flowers while seeking out nectar, and so help in seed production. This not only benefits wild plants but also many of our food crops that depend on moths as well as other insects to ensure a good harvest.
  5. Moths play a vigorous and dynamic role in ecosystems as nutrient recyclers. Moths can easily be used to illustrate the flow of energy released by their relentless consumption of living, senescent, and dead coarse organic material in a natural system. Moth larvae, commonly known as caterpillars, are especially good examples of primary consumers, specifically herbivores, as many species feed directly on the leaves, stems, flower heads, seeds, and roots of plants (primary producers). Caterpillars are “shredders” – they break apart coarse organic matter, releasing carbon into atmosphere (carbon cycle), and enriching soil as they reduce plant parts into humus where smaller “detritavores” can do their part.
  6. Not unlike a canary in a coalmine, moths in many ways are the meteorologists of the environment. Monitoring the ecological status of this guild can give us vital clues to changes in our own environment, such as the effects of new farming practices, pesticides, air pollution and climate change.

Become Involved With This Project

BR Environmental Services has cataloged 300 species of moths in Troy Meadows – 125 species are illustrated in this online field guide.

If you want to become involved with this project, please contact to coordinate your study locations and provide any species sighting not included in the index. Send your image to for review and possible inclusion in the guide.

It would not be unheard of to create a list over time that represnets 800 species specific to the ecology of our cherished Meadows providing development and mismanagement of the resource be kept in check.

If you would like to participate in this study, pay strict attention to your location and the habitat surrounding the species. Providing us with detailed and accurate information will help Wildlife Preserves become better stewards of the Meadows.

Blaine Rothauser – Moth Master, Troy Meadows

About This Guide

The first thing you need to know about this online guide is that it’s a work in progress. The guide does not represent all the moths that can be found at Troy Meadows. As a matter of fact, we have identified over 300 species of moths within its confines. The hundred and twenty seven species we’ve included here provides a solid cross section of the most common species you are likely to find during the course of a year using conventional methods of discovery. However we were happy to included a few less common species that associate specifically with the ecology of Meadows. Species like the rice stalk borer moth whose life history is intricately entwined with that of wild rice (Zizania aquatica), a wetland plant unique to Troy Meadows, both biologically and culturally. Our goal is to aid in the process of identifying most of the moths commonly encounter in this unique ecosystem and then relate the species to its surroundings – creating what we hope will be a much deeper natural awareness and respect for the resource.

How to Use

This guide can be used out in the field with any electronic device that can access the internet – a cellphone, smartphone, tablet, or notebook. It is a work in progress. We’re adding new species all the time, so come back as often as you like and check out what’s new in the way of nocturnal Lepidoptera out at Troy Meadows! If and when you visit Troy Meadows, please respect the land and wildlife. Troy Meadows is private property open to the public for nature observation and study, however it is illegal to collect flora and fauna, including moth species on Wildlife Preserves property. We encourage the public to participate in this inventory of moths. This can be done by taking photographs of what you see. Point and Shoot cameras have become the primary tool for moth identification amongst professional and amateur scientist alike. Having a database full of moth images is an effective and detailed approach to learning this complicated taxa.

The online guide is not meant to replace conventional field guides. We suggest you start the identification process with a quality guide – we recommend the Peterson Field Guide to the Moths (Beadle & Locke 2012) – and when you think you’ve made an accurate identification using the methods therein, see if your moth matches the species plate image we’ve provided. If it does than the real purpose of our Guide to the Moths of Troy Meadows will be revealed. As a naturalist, one of the biggest frustrations comes when you’ve identified a new life form and there’s no further information about the moths life history. Where can one turn to ferret-out something special and important about the discovery? Inevitably you have to research a variety of resources to glean a few basic facts that might help in the task. This is especially true of moths because very little is known about the life history of such an under appreciated guild. This guide is an attempt at providing the Lepidopterist, naturalist, and especially the ecologist a way to relate the species with the environment in which it was found. We can’t guarantee that every moth you find will be in our guide, but what we can promise is that if you spend anytime perusing the field notes included in the plates for the moths you find, you’ll gain a profound appreciation for this special society of creatures and the intricate ecology of its surroundings!

How to Identify Moths

Try to determine overall size and shape and compare with your field guides silhouette page or thumb through guide images and drawings for quick comparison. Repetition will quickly allow you to exceed the learning curve. You’ll swiftly realize that the tiny little elongated moth with a puffy snout is likely one of the Crambids as opposed to those cool medium size deltoid-winged moths that look like stealth-fighter jets – likely to be one of the Sphingids.

  1. Look for distinctive patterns of the forewing and unique color configurations.
  2. Start memorizing the anatomical lingo associated with the top (dorsal) wing surface (we’ve provided you with a special schematic plate for this). Once you get this boring stuff inculcated in your brain you’ll quickly find it useful when two species are distinguished by phrases such as “the subterminal line is a series of black dashes along whitish veins” as opposed to, “terminal line are fringed and checkered”. This example helps differentiate two very close moths, the green leuconycta and the marbled-green leuconycta that otherwise are very similar in size and pattern.
  3. Always look for a distinguishing characteristic or two; i.e., a unique curvature of the wings (brown scoopwing, lower right), maybe two silvery white spots that dominate the forewing (i.e., silver spotted fern moth, upper left), beautiful color barring (rose hooktip upper right), gigantic green moth (Luna moth), spindly-legged, skinny, tiny moth (plume moth species, lower left), distinct hairy legs (Ursula wainscot).
  4. Keep in mind where you are in the environment – are you next to a brook, near a marsh, an upland deciduous forest, etc? Obviously you will not find a pondside crambid in the middle of an upland forest or conversely dusky groundling near an open lake – these are secondary associations with much overlap so use all the clues available to you before making an identification.
  5. Moths are relatively easy to identify to the family level as most have distinct morphology (geometry and structure). Identification to the species level is a whole other animal (no pun intended). What is necessary in most cases is a variety of field guides and online resources to differentiate individuals to the species level. Many of the species included in our online guide required the consultation of scientists, field experts, and moth collectors to positively key them. This is especially true for the Noctuids – a large superfamily of moths that include 4,200 genera of mostly drab fore winged species. But don’t fret – the good news is engaging in “Motheration” is addictive. Like anything else, the more you do it the better you will become, each step easier than the last. The internet has made the process more stress-free as there is no end to the amount of information and help one can find out there in cyberspace as the obsession with this taxa continues to grow exponentially.

Final Step. Use the index of this online guide to see if your species is indicated. If it is highlighted in red than it is “hot.” In other words there will be a quality image of the species for you to compare yours with. Most importantly you‘ll now find some facts and specific information on the association of your species with Troy Meadows.

Keep in mind, as the project grows, so will the moths in this guide. We plan on adding many more and look forward to providing all interested biophiliacs with new and fresh insights into the natural world specific to the ecology of this unique landscape.